Nothing can make growing a business easy. But these strategies, shared by Zenefits' CRM manager, can make it more manageable. Since its launch in 2013, more than 10,000 companies have begun managing employee benefits through Zenefits. Unsurprisingly, keeping up with demand for its free HR software hasn't been easy. And perhaps no one is more familiar with those challenges than Gram Bischof, who optimizes Salesforce use across the entire company.
It isn't the first time Gram's had to fight just to stay caught up. From Yelp to Google, and now Zenefits, Gram has worked at some of today’s most propulsive tech companies, where he has witnessed the mechanics of scaling firsthand. For example, when he started at Zenefits, Gram was responsible for building out the Salesforce workflows and integrations by himself. But as use spread to virtually every department, managing Zenefits' use of Salesforce soon required the attention of an entire team. A year later, Gram still has no trouble keeping the whole team busy. On a daily basis, he has “more meetings than he’d like to admit” to field requests for Salesforce changes. Following those meetings, he coordinates his team to implement the most pressing changes that same day, if possible. How has Gram been able to meet his ever-expanding responsibilities? We interviewed him and found out his tactics for staying ahead of the curve.
1. Hire problem solvers
Asked what he looks for in potential team members, Gram isn’t sure at first. “They’re pretty varied, but one thing I always look for is experience with tough problems.” Gram himself is a good example of this. Ever since a friend helped Gram create his first program at the age of six, he’s progressed to tackle increasingly complex projects. An early win came when Gram devised a way for the sales team at Yelp to automatically find local references to give to potential customers. Later, he would oversee a painstaking integration after Google acquired Motorola. Those experiences were good preparation for his current work at Zenefits, and he looks for team members who have successfully completed similarly daunting tasks.
2. Find the best tools and learn to use them
An emphasis on building the right team is important, but that team’s effectiveness also depends on the tools they have to work with. During a particularly busy transition period, Gram’s team worked to aggregate multiple data systems into a single flow in order to give Zenefits employees more context on incoming communications, such as name of the contact’s organization. Meanwhile, they had to make sure that thousands of leads didn’t get lost or misdirected along the way. In the end, and with some outside help, it took them only 45 days to finish the project—a project that would take about a year in other organizations, according to Gram. What was their secret? Among other things, they coordinated their efforts by returning to three key tools: Google Docs, Lucidchart, and JIRA. The most important feature these tools offered was the capacity for everyone to collaborate and stay on the same page. “Revisioning or versioning without a collaborative tool is so painful, I don’t know how to express it,” says Gram. But it’s not enough just to have access to a good tool; it’s just as important to gain whatever knowledge will allow you to leverage that tool most effectively. For instance, Gram found that employees who understood the conventions of diagramming, including the meanings of various shapes, were better equipped to map out processes in Lucidchart than those who had no knowledge of flowchart symbols.
3. Clean up processes, not just code
Gram and his team constantly search for ways to make workflows more efficient. If they spot any redundancy as they’re reviewing or updating Salesforce processes, they recommend combining or eliminating relevant portions. “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten someone to say no to that,” he says. How can you spot areas of improvement? According to Gram, it all starts with a good diagram: “If you put it in a flowchart, it’s much easier to see” any needed changes. Often, simplifying a process is just a matter of integrating two separate tools or processes into a single flow. To that end, Gram and his team have implemented dozens of Salesforce integrations with Marketto, Inside Sales, Genesys, and more. Beyond finding out which of your existing tools offer integrations, you can also build custom integrations. In the single week before our interview, Gram took part in five technical reviews for upcoming integrations.
4. Set up a formal approval process
As important as it is, collaboration does have a downside. Specifically, allowing a group of people to edit a document or diagram whenever and however they want can keep you from ever reaching a final version or a consensus. Such ambiguity can delay implementation indefinitely. One way to avoid this problem is to reduce the number of decision makers. Gram used to receive requests from dozens of Zenefits employees in different roles. Now, each team has one person responsible for communicating requests to Gram. This change has helped him to prioritize the most important projects. Once you have a limited number of voices responsible for deciding on an outcome, come up with a formal way to have everyone sign off on the project. It’s better to move forward on a working solution than to not move forward at all.
5. Keep track of the big picture
No matter how busy things get, it’s important to keep sight of why you do what you do. “What keeps me going, even when times get tough, is the impact that Zenefits is making,” says Gram. “That’s something I want to be a part of.” The big picture also includes refreshing, out-of-work recreation. Last summer, Gram could be found boating on Lake Tahoe almost every weekend. “It’s not a horrible life—I’ll put it that way,” he jokes.
The real secret to successful scaling
Gram’s advice was given to help others who are dealing with the challenges of rapidly scaling a business, but these same practices can also help business who want to increase their growth rate generally. That’s because the principles of scaling are really just sound business principles in a more dramatic setting. That means that all of the things Gram mentioned are part of a cycle that both responds to growth and opens the way to future growth. The big takeaway is that growing a company isn’t really about doing more of anything. It’s about doing it better than before. It’s only when your growth outpaces your ability to improve in the ways listed above that you’re in real trouble. And that’s what Gram is really up to—finding new ways to improve each day. One of his latest projects will allow Zenefits support representatives to see which parts of the product their contacts have recently interacted with, in order to help them better anticipate any problems. What improvements have helped you to grow your business?